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How to Answer the 5 Most Common Questions from a Science Fair Judge


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Part I: 3 Strategies for an Original Science Fair Project

Once the project is done and the backboard is made, it is time for the Science Fair judging to begin.  Some schools include interviews/presentations whereas others do not.  All regional and state fairs require the interview as a key component of judging.  Here is a list of the most common questions asked by science fair judges with examples of good and bad responses:

  1. Where did you get this idea?

This is my favorite question, because more and more students are not learning how to design their own projects.  With the plethora of websites for science fair project ideas, many kids simply get a detailed procedure from a website and follow the directions like a recipe in a cookbook.  Although these projects should get full academic credit, they typically will not win the fair because they lack creativity.

Good answer: Even if you got the idea from a website or book, highlight all the creative aspects of the project’s development.  Describe changes you made and what makes your project unique.

Bad answer: My sister did it last year and won!

  1. What would you do differently next time?

This type of question evaluates your knowledge of experimental design and ability to solve problems.

Good answer:  Recognize that all projects have limitations and you could always have done better if you had more time, more resources, and/or better equipment.  In addition, most experiments would benefit from more replication.

Bad answer:  Nothing, it was perfect.

  1. What would you do next?

With this type of question, the judge is evaluating your intellectual curiosity and knowledge of the scientific process.

Good answer: Realize all science is built on existing science and propose the next logical experiment.  Look at the results you obtained and think about new questions.  Perhaps you would measure a different, but related dependent variable or evaluate a new independent variable.

Bad answer: Nothing, it’s not required next year

  1. Who helped you?

This one sounds like a trick question because you were supposed to do your own project – right? Keep in mind that no scientist works in isolation and even if they did we wouldn’t know about them because they wouldn’t communicate their results.

Good answer: Acknowledge your teachers, mentors, experts, parents, friends, and anyone else that gave you advice, equipment, or assistance including helping find the idea to practicing for your interview.

Bad answer: My mom finished my backboard while I did my history report.

  1. Are your findings significant?

This one is a trick question!  In everyday language people use “significant” to mean “meaningful” or “substantial”, but to a scientist the term “significant” specifically means you conducted a statistical evaluation of your data and found mathematical support for or against your hypothesis. At the elementary school levels, this is well beyond the grade levels.  So, unless you can explain underlying assumptions, type I and type II errors, and p-values, you should not use the term “significant”.  The judge is testing your knowledge of this term.

BUT if the judge asks “Are your findings important?” Then they want to know if you can link your project results to the bigger picture because scientists are generally not as good as they should be at communicating the importance of their work.

Good answer:  Identify the groups of people (farmers, engineers, managers, law makers, etc.) that might benefit from whatever question you tried to answer and describe why they might need to know this information.

Bad answer: Nope.

For more help with science fair projects see http://science-fair-coach.com

 

Maille Lyons About the Author: Maille Lyons is an environmental microbiologist specializing in aquatic bacteria. She has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from the University of Massachusetts (UMD), a Master’s Degree in Biology from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), a post-graduate certification in Epidemiology and Biostatistics from Drexel, and a Ph.D. in Oceanography from the University of Connecticut (UCONN). Follow on Twitter @ScienceFairInfo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






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